When you think about “detox,” what comes to mind?

Maybe it’s “doing a detox” and you see green juices; drinking vats of cayenne-spiked, maple syrup-sweetened lemon water; and saying “no” to favorite treats. Perhaps you see sweat, colonics, meditation and deep breathing. Or maybe, it’s how you have felt during or after a detox: clear mind, radiant skin, trimmer figure, reduced pain and improved mood.

Whether the thought of a detox invigorates you or makes you groan, who doesn’t want to be squeaky clean on the inside?

When most people think of “detox” they are usually either thinking of reducing their intake of toxins, such as by fasting, or they are thinking of getting toxins out of their bodies. Neither is really detox, which is a separate process.

There are two different vital aspects of dealing with YUCK in your body:
detoxification – make toxins less toxic
depuration – remove toxins from the body

Understanding these processes is crucial to making good decisions about your health.


The liver is the primary site of detoxification in the body. Here, toxins undergo two phases in order to transform dangerous fat-soluble substances into more benign, water-soluble ones ready for elimination.

Note that these chemicals are not only exogenous toxins such as the pesticide residues on your apple, the acrylamide on your charred meat and the VOCs in your new carpet, but also various endogenous toxins from the processes that keep you alive and healthy, such as excess hormones and inflammatory molecules.

In Phase 1 Liver Detoxification, substances are acted upon by one or more cytochrome P-450 enzymes. The resulting intermediaries are highly reactive and oxidative, potentially quite dangerous to DNA if there are not enough antioxidants present or if Phase 2 Detoxification is backed up.

Phase 2 Liver Detoxification is called the conjugation pathway. It uses sulphur-containing amino acids plus glycine, glutamine, choline and inositol to convert the dangerous products from Phase 1 into safe, water soluble molecules.
Non-reactive as these detoxified substances may be, left in the body they clog up the system—not unlike leaves in a rain gutter. The results of Phase 2 are transported into the bile for expulsion from the body. This is where depuration steps in.


Eliminating toxins from the body is known as depuration. This occurs through your Emunctories—your organs of elimination.

There are five primary emunctories in the human body:
· Colon
· Kidney/Bladder
· Skin
· Lungs
· Emotions

Bile, containing the products of liver detoxification, is dumped into the intestines where it is carried out of the body with stool via the Colon.

The Kidneys remove water soluble toxins directly from the blood, where they are carried out of the body with urine.

Sweat is mostly water, but the body appears to use sweat preferentially for removing several toxic elements, including BPA, arsenic, cadmium, and higher-molecular-weight-lead. Other toxic substances are expelled in sweat as well such as mercury, organic solvents, flame retardants and metabolic by-products.

At rest, average adult lungs exhale five to eight liters—almost two gallons—of air every minute. Carbon dioxide is the major toxin expelled in the breath; a backup of carbon dioxide is quickly fatal. Alongside carbon dioxide, the body excretes many volatile organic compounds and metabolic byproducts when you breathe.

The last emunctory is perhaps the least relevant to our discussion here, but could be the most important for one’s overall health and happiness. It’s true that some amount of physical toxins are released in the exhale of laughter and through tears. More than that, though, we laugh and cry out the mental/emotional toxins which, left unprocessed, can wreck havoc on body, mind and soul.

Do you have a favorite “detox”? Why do you love it? Where does it fit within the processes of detoxification and depuration?